Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse (L to R) were all top singing stars seriously affected by drug and other substance abuse, each dying much earlier than expected but all leaving lasting legacies.
Last Saturday evening, as my friends and I were sitting down to dinner, Whitney Houston’s iconic version of "I Will Always Love You" was playing on my stereo. Suddenly, my friend Nigel’s mobile phone rang. He stepped away to take the call, then his face instantly turned sour. "Somebody just told me Whitney Houston just died," he said. "She said they said they found her dead in a hotel bathroom in Beverly Hills."
It sounded like a joke, but Nigel’s face was dead serious. As two other calls came in from other friends we knew it was true: yet another top international performer had passed away suddenly. I recalled so many other performers before Whitney who had succumbed to various drug or alcohol addictions. The last was Britain’s superstar Amy Winehouse, who drank herself to death last year as she was hitting her prime. Before her, it was Michael Jackson, who died in 2009 of an accidental overdose of a powerful anesthetic. And of course there was Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in the 1960s and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in the 1970s, who died from drugs or drink or a combination of both.
Whitney Houston was only 48 when she died at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 11, the evening before she was scheduled to attend the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. At the time of her death, she had sold over 170 million albums, won five Grammy Awards as well as countless international music and film awards. But her notorious 14-year marriage to fellow singer Bobby Brown had been a constant source of anxiety; since the height of her fame in the mid-1990s she developed a serious cocaine problem and was constantly in and out of rehab programs.
Coroners have ruled out violence or foul play in Houston’s death, but her exact cause of death will not be officially known or determined until the results of toxicology tests are completed. But her self-confessed addiction to drugs and its effects on her health and her singing have been matters of public record as the world watched her deteriorate since the late 1990s.
What could drive some of the world’s top talent to self-destruction at the height of their fame? Sociologists, psychologist and researchers into the lifestyles of the rich and famous say fans never know or understand the loneliness, broken lives, heartaches, and personal pressures that top performing artists face. Many experience severe personal crises that contribute to a deep level of personal dissatisfaction. These crises often revolve around failed marriages or relationships, multiple failed business partnerships, and the stress of stage and studio performances, social events, and other excesses that go with life in the fast lane.
Both Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse chose the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, my current place of residence, for private retreats at height of their personal crises. Whitney and Bobby Brown visited the island in 2007 during the height of her cocaine addiction; and Amy spent several weeks recovering on what she several times described as her "adopted island" mere months before her death in London last year.
Last Saturday evening, when I heard "I Will Always Love You" through my window, I would never have imagined that I would learn that Whitney Houston was dead before the song ended. But even though she will never sing again, she has already sung her way into the hearts of admirers around the world.
Whitney, we will always love you!
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/earlbousquet.htm
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